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County leaders: City of Winder didn’t provide proper legal notice on annexation request

A request to annex a piece of property into the City of Winder and rezone it for a residential subdivision of 28 single-family homes to be built has been put on hold after the city council voted last week to table the request. Meanwhile, the county board of commissioners voted on the same night to notify the city of their concerns, contending that the city did not follow the proper state procedure for notifying the county about the request.

Applicant JP Squared, LLC, is seeking to annex and rezone 15.1 acres at 240 East Wright St. from the county’s AG agricultural zone to the city’s R-1B high-density single-family residential zone to build the subdivision near existing low- and medium-density subdivisions. An existing 1,700-square-foot ranch home would remain on a 1.48-acre portion of the property, according to the developer's plans.

After holding a public hearing on the case during its Nov. 4 work session, the city council voted 5-1 Tuesday, Nov. 9, to table it until December at the request of both the applicant and city attorney John Stell. A little while later that evening, during the county BOC’s meeting, commissioners voted unanimously to send a letter to the city — not formally objecting to the proposed annexation, but raising the point that the city had not notified the county of the request in a timely manner and requesting that the applicant withdraw the current application and submit a new one.

The letter, sent to the city Nov. 10 and signed by board chairman Pat Graham, referenced a section of the state code that requires municipalities where there is an annexation request to notify counties of the request within five business days.

According to county documents, after the East Wright Street property annexation request was filed with the city in mid-September, under the statute, the city would have had to notify the county of the request by Sept. 23 in order to be in compliance. However, notice wasn’t given until Oct. 6, county officials said. They also noted a previous occurrence late last year, when the city apparently waited over a month to formally notify the county of the request to annex a swath of land south of Atlanta Highway near Pine Hills Golf Course owned by descendants of the late U.S. Sen. Richard Russell for a large residential subdivision and some commercial uses. The council, in January of this year, approved that request in a split vote.

Under state law, once a municipality notifies a county of an annexation request, the county has 30 days to file a formal objection, whether it be a land-use dispute that would be settled through arbitration or a procedural one.

Graham said during the Nov. 9 BOC meeting that while it would be difficult to justify that the smaller scale of the proposed development on East Wright Street would place an increased burden on the county, the county should hold the city to the law and ask the applicants to essentially start over.

“I don’t understand why this is a repeat problem,” Graham said.

The lack of proper notification is “not giving the county its due opportunity to review and comment,” county attorney Angie Davis added. “It’s an issue that is interfering with our opportunity to fairly review these annexations to ensure that we’re protecting our county citizens.”

Asking the applicant to file a new application over would not stop the annexation process itself, but would help hold the city to the statute, Davis said.

“I don’t know if that’s an issue you want to litigate,” Davis told commissioners, “but at some point, we may feel like we’re forced to. If it was a critical land issue with a huge development that we would have a legitimate need to object to, (the city is) demonstrating that they’re proceeding with their process without hearing our position at all. And that is problematic.”

Graham’s letter to the city states, “The county would prefer to work with the city to ensure a mutually agreeable result but is compelled to reserve its right to file a legal challenge to the deficiencies in the notice should that become necessary.”

Jeff DeLoach, an attorney representing the applicant, declined to comment on whether a new application would be submitted. He said Tuesday, Nov. 16, that his client was conferring with the property owner and would make a decision about its next step “in the near future, but has not done so at this time.”

Despite the code language, Winder mayor David Maynard said the city “does not agree that past annexation notices have been legally deficient.”

“However,” he added, “the city is committed to providing future notices promptly to the county.”

City councilman Jimmy Terrell, the lone council member to vote against the tabling of the request, said he agreed with the county’s position. Terrell raised the timing of the notice to Stell during the Nov. 4 council work session, and Stell suggested the item could be tabled until December.

“I think we jumped the gun putting it on the agenda,” Terrell said.

Tattered flags were retired during a burning ceremony at the annual Veterans Day observance event hosted Saturday, Nov. 13, at Watson Hall by the Winder-based Sunbury Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Shown are Carter Wood, Lyman Hall Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution (left), and Joe Timms, SAR.

Shown (from left to right) are Quilt of Valor recipients James Linton Johnson, Raymond “Yankee” Furman and Stanford Davis. Johnson served in the United States Army from 1965-1972. He served in the Vietnam War and Korea. Furman served in the Marine Corps from 2002-2006. He served in the War in Afghanistan – Kandahar, from March through October 2004 and the War in Iraq – Fallujah, from November 2004 through October 2005. Davis served in the Army National Guard from 1949-1954 and was a medic in a M.A.S.H. hospital during the Korean War.

Prior to Apalachee High School's playoff football game Friday, Nov. 12, the Wildcats, head coach Tony Lotti and the Barrow County Sheriff's Office paid tribute to Lena Nicole Marshall, the Jackson County Sheriff's deputy who had formerly worked with the BCSO and the Winder Police Department, who was killed in the line of duty Nov. 5. Apalachee made several Barrow deputies honorary team captains before Friday's game and carried a "Thin Blue Line" American flag out to midfield. A moment of silence for Marshall was held at R. Harold Harrison Stadium before kickoff. 

BOC approves hiring of new operations manager, promotes interim planning director

The Barrow County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, Nov. 9, approved a pair of administrative level hires — including the new county operations manager position and removing the interim tag off the county’s current planning director.

In a unanimous vote, the board hired former Oglethorpe County chairman and CEO Billy Pittard as operations manager, a role in which he will essentially function as a deputy to county manager Kevin Little.

Pittard, whose starting salary will be $95,000, was recommended to the board by a county staff panel that interviewed him and two other candidates for the position, which was first advertised Sept. 1. According to his resume, Pittard has over 18 years of local government experience, first as public works director and county engineer for Oglethorpe County from 2003-2008. He was then elected as chairman and CEO and served three terms before deciding not to run for re-election in 2020. He spent most of this year with a civil engineering consulting firm that offers services to the public sector.

Prior to his time in local government, Pittard spent 20 years a chemical engineer for a pharmaceutical company. He is a graduate of Clemson University.

In his new role, Pittard will have a lengthy list of responsibilities, including, among others:

•conducting employee performance evaluations and making hiring, termination and disciplinary recommendations.

•assisting the county manager with strategic planning and strategy implementation.

•handling media inquiries, “often regarding politically-sensitive matters,” according to the job posting.

•managing major economic development-based initiatives and developing community-based project budgets.

•developing and administering budgets and managing financial operations.

•researching issues and writing reports for the county manager and BOC.

Little said all current executive positions in the county government remain in place and that Pittard will be assisting each department in their activities. 

"Counties of our size and that are growing rapidly have this type of position to work on special projects and meet all the federal and state requirements needed for operations these days," Little wrote in an email. "This position will cover a wide array of tasks here in Barrow and work along with the departments for efficiency as well as broaden the scope in some areas."

Prior to the vote on hiring Pittard, the BOC was also unanimous in its support of naming interim planning director Rebecca Whiddon to the position full-time. Whiddon, a county employee since 2003 who previously was a senior planner, had held the interim post since May following former planning director Dan Schultz’s departure.

Whiddon was one of four candidates to apply for the position and was considered the sole qualified applicant, according to a staff report. Her starting salary will be $84,257.


In other business at its Nov. 9 meeting, the BOC:

•tabled until next month a request to rezone 8.7 acres at 1032 Atlanta Hwy. SE, Winder, near the Barrow County Airport, for a new warehouse to operate a pallet sales and recycling business so that concerns from the county airport authority that the building height could potentially pose a hazard to air navigation can be resolved. John Stell, the attorney for the airport authority, has said that if the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) determines buildings on the site would present a hazard after they’re built, the county would have to file to condemn the property on the authority’s behalf and tear the structures down.

•tabled until next a request to rezone 3 acres at 1411 Cronic Town Rd., Auburn, for the building of three single-family lots and a variance from a requirement that the lots would need to front a paved public road so a revised site plan can be presented that will resolve a property dispute between property owners. The applicant told the board he was planning to withdraw his variance request.

•approved a request to rezone 30.9 acres at 1257 Bethlehem Rd., Statham, for a single-family residential subdivision with 19 planned homes.

•approved a request to rezone 30.9 acres at 501 Argonne Rd., Winder, for agricultural and farming-related structures and activities.

•approved a contract with Precision Planning, Inc. for $178,545 to perform engineering design work for a water main replacement along a roughly 4-mile stretch of Pleasant Hill Church Road, beginning just north of Nunnally Road and continuing to State Route 211 at Dunahoo Road. A new 12-inch main will replace the current 8-inch main. The project, which has an overall price tag of just under $2.9 million, is being federally-funded through American Rescue Plan monies the county received and is required to be designed and constructed by 2025. According to county documents, there is an estimated 12- to 15-month period for the design phase and another 12 to 15 months estimated for construction.

•approved giving up the Beaver Dam Road water service area to the Town of Braselton for an upcoming annexation request so that the town can be the sole provider. County officials said there would be a higher infrastructure cost to bring water service to the area. If the parcels on Beaver Dam Road are not annexed, the county would request the town surrender the water service territory back.

•approved an agreement with the Georgia Department of Transportation for the county to provide right-of-way mowing and maintenance for the planned future roundabout at SR 211/County-Line Auburn Road and Mulberry Road.

•approved the purchase of a Ford F-150 for the water department at a state-contract price of $30,251.

•approved a reduction of animal adoption fees at the county animal shelter through the end of the year to $20 with the donation of a toy to Barrow County Family Connection’s Holiday Connection program.

•approved an agreement with planning consulting firm TSW to help the county with a review of its joint comprehensive plan, highway corridor overlay and other related plans, and a review of allowable uses in the M-1 and M-2 zoning districts. The maximum cost for the services will be $30,000.

•met in closed session for over an hour to discuss property acquisition, litigation and personnel issues. No action resulted from the session.

School board approves retention supplement for district teachers, staff, custodians

Barrow County School System teachers and employees will be receiving a one-time $1,500 retention supplement in January with the help of federal funding.

During its monthly voting session Tuesday, Nov. 9, the county board of education approved paying the supplement to all active teachers, employees and contract custodians who will have compiled at least 90 calendar days of employment and service with the school district as of Jan. 3. Employees who have not worked with the district for 90 days will receive the supplement once they’ve hit that mark, and part-time employees will receive a percentage of the supplement, district officials said.

The $1,500 supplement is expected to cost around $3.4 million to implement, but Jennifer Houston, the district’s assistant superintendent for business services, told the board she expects the cost will be covered entirely with CARES Act and American Rescue Plan funds.

The board was presented with three options for supplement levels — $500, $1,000 or $1,500 — but was unanimous in its decision to go with the highest amount. Board members and superintendent Chris McMichael said the retention supplement was the district’s way of thanking its teachers and employees for navigating the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think all of our people have been working in the equivalent of a war zone for two (school) years,” board member Lynn Stevens said. “I think we’re all battle-weary, and I’m so delighted we can actually have the funds to do this to show our appreciation for everyone who works in the school system.”

“Our folks have done an amazing job under some of the worst circumstances I think educators have ever had to deal with,” McMichael added. “I’m thrilled, too, that we were able to do this.”


In other business Tuesday, the board:

•approved an agreement with Modular Solutions of Cumming to install a mobile pod unit at the district’s innovation campus to accommodate growth while phase II of Barrow Arts and Sciences Academy is constructed. The cost limitation for the project is $1.5 million, and the project will be paid for through a combination of CARES Act and SPLOST funds. The mobile pod unit is expected to be ready for next school year, according to Joe Perno, assistant superintendent for operations.

•approved an agreement with Charles Black Construction to serve as construction manager at-risk for planned renovations and modifications at Bramlett, Kennedy and Yargo elementary schools. The firm will join the project architect (approved by the board in April) for the design phase through the completion of construction. The work, which is part of the district’s local facilities funding application to the state for FY23, has a cost limitation of $3.5 million.

•approved an agreement with Charles Black Construction to serve as construction manager at-risk for planned renovations, modifications and maintenance work at various athletic and agricultural facilities, maintenance department property, pod/mobile units, the district’s professional development center, the old Bethlehem Elementary building, the old County Line Elementary building, Sims Academy and the Center for Innovative Teaching — all of which are not eligible for the state funding. The cost limitation has been set at $3.5 million.

•approved the acceptance of a $293,523 21st Century Community Learning Centers sub-grant for Fiscal Year 2022. The grant supports the local Boys and Girls Club after-school program located at the Boys and Girls Club of Winder. A total of 101 students from County Line, Holsenbeck, Kennedy, Statham and Winder elementary schools will be able to participate.

•approved the purchase of Video Insight security camera system licenses from low-bid respondent TechOptics for $48,684.

•approved an agreement with Aligned Cleaning Solutions to provide custodial workers for cleaning services, supplementing the services the district already has in place. Perno said hiring and retaining custodial workers has been “more challenging than usual” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

•heard from Houston that the district collected $1.46 million in ELOST receipts for October.